New romantic comedy proves that ‘Hope Springs’ eternal

Meryl Streep stars as Kay, an older wo­man strug­gling in an un­ful­filling mar­riage, in the new ro­mantic com­edy ‘Hope Springs.’

You might know the kind of couple that’s por­trayed in Hope Springs.

I’m talk­ing about the kind who cel­eb­rates an­niversar­ies with a gift for the house­hold, such as a new cable sub­scrip­tion or wa­ter heat­er. The kind where the hus­band parks him­self in front of the tele­vi­sion and watches hours of sports pro­gram­ming un­til he falls asleep every night. And when it’s time for bed, they head off to their sep­ar­ate bed­rooms and close the doors. Or, maybe you and your spouse are that couple. Either way, you can prob­ably re­late to Hope Springs.

Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and Kay (Meryl Streep) are that couple who have simply grown apart after 31 years of mar­riage, and Kay has had just about enough of it.

Days have turned in­to weeks, weeks in­to months and months in­to years since Kay and Arnold were last in­tim­ate. Arnold doesn’t see the prob­lem.

In the spir­it of re­kind­ling their ro­mance, Kay pur­chases the book You Can Have the Mar­riage You Want by the renowned couple’s ther­ap­ist Dr. Bern­ard Feld (Steve Carell).

After giv­ing it a read, Kay de­cides to vis­it Dr. Feld in per­son to at­tend his in­tens­ive weeklong couple’s ther­apy re­treat in the idyll­ic Maine town of Hope Springs. She mi­ra­cu­lously con­vinces Arnold to come along.

So Dr. Feld turns out to really be more of a sex ther­ap­ist as op­posed to a mar­riage ther­ap­ist, but that’s where most of the hu­mor comes from in the movie. No top­ics are off-lim­its, and Dr. Feld dives right in to ask­ing per­son­al ques­tions such as:  When was the last time you were in­tim­ate? What are your fantas­ies? When was your best time? And he gives them in­ter­act­ive home­work as­sign­ments, too.

You’ll cringe watch­ing these older folks dis­cuss and work out their sexu­al is­sues, but the dis­com­fort is part of the fun. And there’s just enough hu­mor to di­lute the awk­ward mo­ments.

Dir­ect­or Dav­id Frankel (who worked with Streep in The Dev­il Wears Pra­da) is a little heavy-handed with the soft-rock mu­sic when some­times si­lence would have done the trick. The sub­dued script from TV writer/pro­du­cer Vanessa Taylor of­fers no big ah-ha or twist mo­ments, but it al­lows the act­ors to really shine.

I have nev­er thought of Tommy Lee Jones as a ro­mantic lead kind of guy, and that’s prob­ably why he works well here. You ima­gine that maybe he and Kay used to en­joy each oth­er’s com­pany, but over time he’s be­come more gruff, less af­fec­tion­ate and con­tent to watch the Golf Chan­nel every night.

Streep, as usu­al, gives it her all, and yes, I could be­lieve that this 17-time Oscar nom­in­ee (three-time win­ner) works at a cloth­ing store and is stuck in a hum-drum mar­riage. It’s a test­a­ment to her act­ing that she’s quite be­liev­able as a de­mure, Mid­west­ern grand­moth­erly type in un­fash­ion­able clothes.

It is nice to see a movie about people who are ac­tu­ally will­ing to work on their mar­riage in­stead of throw­ing around the ‘D’ word or even worse, cheat­ing.

Des­pite the ad­vanced ages of the two leads, Hope Springs is not just for the AARP crowd, though that crowd is cer­tainly among the tar­geted audi­ence. It’s racy without be­ing raunchy, and any­one with a sense of hu­mor will find something funny and en­ter­tain­ing about this movie. ••

Movie Grade: B+

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